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Where We Are Now
Through Friday August 6th, roughly 11 percent of US K-12 students had started school; many districts started Wednesday and Thursday. Arizona, Mississippi, Hawaii and Georgia had over 80% of their K-12 students start school this past week, Tennessee was at about 50% and Indiana, New Mexico, and Alabama at just over 30%.
This coming week roughly 25% of US K-12 students start school. States that will have over 50% of their students in school by the end of this week include all those noted above plus California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Nevada. Texas starts about 40% of students this week.
Schools across the country are moving to return in person. The wide variation of testing and mitigation strategies across the country will make their ability to successfully do so a difficult situation to assess for the first few weeks of classes. Among the handful of disruptions and data points.
The mechanics of testing and quarantine rules are going to have a big impact this coming Fall. In recent announcements and trends:
In Utah, where district level mask mandates are banned, the Department of Health issued quarantine guidelines that say a student can continue to attend school if exposed to someone with Covid 19 if they were both wearing a mask, the close contact had recently had Covid 19, or the close contact was wearing an N-95. Otherwise the exposed individual quarantines and can test out after 7 days.
The Texas Education Association issued health guidelines last week. The document does not require contact tracing by local districts, but also notes " If school systems are made aware that a student is a close contact, the school system should notify the student’s parents. Parents of students who are determined to be close contacts of an individual with COVID-19 may opt to keep their students at home during the recommended stay-at-home period."
In Illinois the state announced a testing plan with alternatives for quarantining. If close contacts are masked (now required in Illinois) they can take part in a "Test to Stay" protocol and be tested on days 1, 3, 5 and 7. Separately, the document notes " IDPH encourages all schools to implement weekly testing of their unvaccinated students and staff. Schools that implement weekly testing will be prioritized for Test-to-Stay and outbreak testing when required."
Marion, AR School District reports over 900 students in quarantine. Earlier in the week when the figures were slightly lower the Superintendent was quoted in this story as saying “And I was told just a few minutes ago, the numbers continue to rise rapidly . . . If our students had been under the same mask mandate that we administered last year, instead of 730 people quarantined we would have had 42.”
This district summary out of Utah outlines that Davis School District "will follow 'test-to-stay' protocols, holding a coronavirus testing event if 2% of students and staff for a school of more than 1,500 people, or 30 students and staff for a school of 1,500 or less, test positive for the disease."
In virtual learning trends and news we continue to see districts adding virtual academies just as the school year is about to begin:
"Due to rapidly changing conditions related to Covid 19" Frisco ISD, TX is offering a temporary K-6 online option for the first nine weeks of school and will be "reevaluated as necessary until a vaccine is widely available for children under 12."
Off results from a parent survey, Central Bucks, PA is offering a virtual option at each elementary school with now-familiar references to retiring the program when a vaccine is available for this age group.
States continue to reverse regulations around masks in schools and the situation is very fluid. From this week: CDC guidance had an immediate impact on mask policies and we expect continued policy shifts on this element of school opening in the coming weeks.
On Wednesday Illinois issued a state wide mask mandate for public and private schools.
On Thursday the New York State Health Commissioner issued a notably brief statement on school opening guidelines: "With the end of the state disaster emergency on June 25, 2021, school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for schools. Schools and school districts should develop plans to open in-person in the fall as safely as possible, and I recommend following guidance from the CDC and local health departments." By allowing flexibility New York becomes light green on our School Mask Policy Tracker.
In an equally fluid situation, in Arkansas a bill supported by the Governor to allow districts flexibility on masks (that would have overturned a recently passed law banning mask mandates) failed in committee. But on Friday a judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a ban on masks in schools. We are monitoring this situation as well. Arkansas remains dark green for the moment.
The recent fluctuations in mask mandates are reversing policies only just put in place. In our dataset we count over 20 districts in New Jersey and Illinois that had removed mask mandates only recently. In Florida, where Governor DeSantis imposed a mandate ban July 30th, Broward County school district has kept its ban in place and has a board meeting this week to discuss. Alachua County, FL voted to require masks for the first two weeks of school and other districts are appealing to Governor DeSantis to allow masks to be required. DeSantis's order comes with financial penalties for districts that fail to comply.